Joe Casey - Subvert From Within
An interview conducted by the whole Comicdom team
Edited By Elias Katirtzigianoglou
He has the courage to admit his wrongdoings. Perhaps more important is that he has the spunk to avoid any kind of false modesty, not being afraid to express his pride and admiration for some of his own works. Joe Casey talks to the Greek comics buying public for the first time in an interview that we hope you'll find as interesting as we did.
COMICDOM: Were you a comics reader as a child? What were your favorite books?
JOE CASEY: AVENGERS was my big book as a kid. I loved the characters, the writing, the artwork. It was a real classic period for the book, issues #100-200, and it's still some of my favorite superhero comics ever printed.
CD: What was your first professional comics work?
JC: I did a black & white, no-money, creator-owned series called THE HARVEST KING for Caliber Comics. Thanks to writer James Robinson, my first mainstream work was writing CABLE for Marvel.
CD: Which writers have influenced your work?
JC: Elmore Leonard, Robert E. Howard, Mike Baron, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Douglas Rushkoff, James Robinson, Matt Wagner, Steve Seagle, Lester Bangs and probably another one hundred one-hit wonder writers that have provided inspiration over the years.
CD: What are your favorite current comics and which creators do you follow on a steady basis? Any artists that you'd die to work with?
JC: I don't usually pine away for artists to work with. If I like them, then I just try to work with them. Names that spring to mind are Chris Weston and CrissCross. I don't usually look to be paired up with the guys on the WIZARD Top Ten artist list, not because they're not great, but because I've just had better luck in my career with artists that might not be so familiar or on the tops of fans' superstar lists. Sure, A-list artists are great and they can really bring big sales to a project, but I'm much more invested in making good comics, whether they sell or not. Because of my own personal tastes, I'd take working with a Sean Phillips over working with a Michael Turner any day of the week. And Turner's a fantastic artist, but I just happen to respond more strongly to Sean's immeasurable talents.
CD: You are the writer of what is for most people the best CABLE run ever. You really had it. If you had the chance to write the final Cable story, what would you do?
JC: We almost got there. Originally, CABLE #76 was going to be the finale of the Cable-Apocalypse conflict that, for me, would've been a nice end to Cable's story up until that point. Ladronn and I were going to deal with the Twelve, as well, in a way significantly different than what actually saw print. Our story actually made some sense.
CD: Speaking of the conclusion, do you believe that Cable was robbed from his destiny after the whole Apocalypse: the twelve thing? How do you feel about the way the title ended up, you know, Cable being a freedom fighter and everything?
JC: Honestly, I never read CABLE after Ladronn was fired and I left in solidarity. I rarely look back or feel the need to see what other writers do with characters I've written, especially once I feel like I've said everything I wanted to say about them during my stint. Better to look forward and find new challenges.
CD: I believe Landronn was instrumental in the success of the whole project. How do you feel about his work? Was it the result of a good professional relationship or just pure talent from both sides?
JC: Besides getting the job in the first place, being paired with Ladronn was the luckiest break in my career. He's such a master at what he does, and most comicbook fans have never seen how good he really is. Although his work on HIP FLASK so far is pretty close. But if you think he's good now, wait until we see Ladronn's work in, say, ten or twenty years. He's only going to get better. In the "pure talent" department, he's got it all over me. Thankfully, he and I clicked on both a professional and personal level right from the start, and a deep friendship was formed that I think has lasted to this day.
CD: Regarding AUTOMATIC KAFKA: What were your influences (besides drugs and DOOM PATROL)?
JC: For AUTOMATIC KAFKA, my life was the major influence.
I finally learned how to infuse my work with the personal
and more ephemeral aspects of my own life experiences. I found
a new freedom, writing that series. And I've applied it to
all subsequent work and it's made all the difference.
CD: Were you satisfied with the impact AUTOMATIC KAFKA had on audiences?
JC: Absolutely. It's pointless to bitch about sales now, more than a year after its last issue hit. I'm more than grateful that, by the end of the series, we still had roughly ten thousand English-speaking readers who bought the book and read it. That still blows my mind. Ten thousand is a lot of people for that quirky little book! I would've been happy if just ten readers were into it.
CD: Were you displeased with AUTOMATIC KAFKA's cancellation? Do you think it would have faired better as an indy release?
JC: No, I think it got its fair shot as a "mainstream" release. Sometimes you have to take that stab at the larger arena. I wanted this experimental book to be right up there with the X-Men's and the Batman's, so for the duration of its run, mainstream readers were at least being exposed to something they didn't normally see. For better or worse, for that year, they had an alternative to the normal superhero comicbooks they were used to reading.
CD: Will there ever be a follow up to AUTOMATIC KAFKA? If there is would it be better for it to undergo a trial or a metamorphosis?
JC: Clever. And, to answer your question, yes, there will be a follow-up to KAKFA. I'm working on it right now for a 2005 release.
CD: I get the notion that writing X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM wasn't a very pleasant experience. Did it bother you that Steve Rude didn't finish his work on the title? How did you learn about it? Any idea about the reasons?
JC: Writing it was fine, aside from the editorial snafus that were indicative of Marvel at the time. The unpleasantness came from Steve Rude being fired after the third issue, which took a lot of the wind out of my sales. We all know he wasn't working as quickly as our editors would've liked, but I honestly thought that Marvel would have the foresight to realize how special the series was. Of course, the people in power at that time are no longer at Marvel, so I think that says it all. I do think there were some solid ideas in that series and the way in which I depicted teenagers in COTA is a direct precursor to what I'm doing now in THE INTIMATES.
CD: We'll talk more about THE INTIMATES later on. Let's go to your UNCANNY X-MEN run where you tried some pretty radical stuff. How did you convince the editors to let you get away with Logan and Jean?
JC: It was early on in the Quesada-Jemas regime, so they were willing to try anything. Also, I was competing with Morrison and Quietly, two of my favorite creators, not to mention friends of mine, so I knew I had to make a splash with my first issue. Unfortunately, it was one of many creative missteps I made during my UNCANNY run.
CD: One of your last stories in UNCANNY X-MEN, with Banshee and his task force relocating in Europe, had a lot of potential. How did you come up with this idea, and what else would you have done if you had stayed on the title?
JC: Grant and I had been talking about how the X-Men were almost like a corporate franchise, so springing off that idea I thought it might be cool to explore a more militant version of Xavier's ideal.
Banshee's background made him the ideal character to spearhead it and the perfect patsy to be manipulated by Mystique and the Brotherhood. The only ideas that were left unexplored by my departure were the real showdown with the Church of Humanity (which wouldn't have at all resembled whatever it was that eventually saw print) and Warren Worthington campaigning to be the first mutant President of the United States.
CD: Regarding your run at the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN you said once in an interview that "I found out the hard way that there's simply too much we're not allowed to do with Superman in the regular comic books". Could you be more specific? What did you have in mind for the Man of Steel that DC wouldn't allow to happen?
JC: We had a big event story kicked back by management that
really took the wind out of our sails. That was really the beginning of the end. I managed to go out with a bang in
my final year, telling the kind of Superman stories I'd always wanted
to see. My hat trick was a fairly simple one: to write stories that
were so weird, that even my editors didn't understand them enough
to find anything controversial about them. It's a kind of subversion
that I like to engage in whenever I feel the constraints of a corporation
bearing down on me. Subvert from within. That's where real change
CD: It is amazing how WILDCATS has evolved from just-another-action-driven-super-hero-book into one of the most innovative books in the industry. When you took over Vol 2, how did you "sell" your concept to Wildstorm?
JC: I didn't really have to. Aside from a really general direction, the book had no real concept. By just assuring them that I had any kind of vision at all for the characters engendered a level of trust that I never took for granted. I really like the folks at Wildstorm and I wanted to do my best work for them. So far, so good. Between MR. MAJESTIC, WILDCATS, KAFKA and now THE INTIMATES, I think it's been a fruitful creative partnership between writer and publisher. Sales notwithstanding, of course.
CD: In WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 you used only 3 of the original characters. Why did you "retire" the others?
JC: Because I felt I'd given the other characters a satisfying
sendoff in Volume 2. Especially Voodoo, Maul, Emp and Warblade.
If you've read all of VERSION 3.0, then you know that practically
every other character came back, in some fashion.
CD: Regarding the character of Spartan do you see him as a God or a monster?
JC: Neither, actually. I see him as exactly what I think he was created to be: a superhero. He's a completely altruistic being mainly because that's what he was programmed to be. Remember, he's an android, so his motivations are as pure as a perfect math equation. He was determined to change the world for the better using the most powerful tool that exists on Earth: the corporation. He would've done it, too.
CD: Despite the excellent reviews it's true that your WILDCATS wasn't a top seller. What's your reasoning for this?
JC: It's rare that quality sells. That's just the nature of art. Whatever's most popular rarely has much to do with actual merits of the work in question. There are definitely the rare artistic and commercial triumphs, like Morrison and Quitely on NEW X-MEN, but if you think about it, they are few and far between. There's always a component of most of the top sellers that falls short for me. I suppose if that weren't the case, it'd be way more easy for me to write those top sellers. But I'm in it for the art, not the sales. Hence my current "cult" status as a writer in the mainstream. But I'm not complaining.
CD: In the final storyline of WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 the whole Zealot part seemed a little out of synch with the rest of the book. Was it intentional?
JC: Well, obviously it was never meant to be the final storyline. I'd laid the groundwork for CODA WAR ONE in the last issues of Volume 2, and it was always meant to explode into this big battle that took place at the Coda temple. If anything, it was the most romantic storyline of the series because it was Grifter on a mission to rescue his one, true love. So, yeah, it was completely intentional.
CD: Is there any chance the rest of the stories for WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 (that will not be published) will continue in another format in the future?
JC: Not that I know of. These days, you can never say never,
but I wouldn't hold my breath. I know I wouldn't do it without
Dustin drawing it, so it would all depend on schedules and
things like that.
CD: How did you come up with the concept of MILKMAN MURDERS? I'm getting the feeling that the Milkman functions as some kind of deus ex machina in the story. Is it true?
JC: I think, when you read all four issues, you'll understand the Milkman's role in the story. There's a bit more of a mythological underpinning to the story than the early chapters display. The milkman represents many things in this series. This book is basically meant to evoke a reaction in the reader.
CD: How did you feel writing the AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES limited series? In what ways was the experience different than writing CHILDREN OF THE ATOM?
JC: It was 180 degrees from writing COTA because I'm such
an Avengers nut. It was my favorite comicbook as a kid and
that affection has never faded, even during the periods when
the monthly book was absolute shit. So, to get to add to the
canon in such a significant way was a dream come true for me. It's hard to express to people how much EMH
really means to me, and to the kid in me. But it's absolutely the
culmination of my career writing superheroes so far. It's tough to
think where to go from here, after I've achieved such a personal pinnacle.
CD: Tell us a bit about THE INTIMATES. What's this new project about and how did you get the job?
JC: I pitched the basic idea to Wildstorm (and specifically
Jim Lee). It's basically teen superheroes in school. Those
four words seem to conjure up everything that THE INTIMATES
will be dealing with. Going back to the X-MEN: CHILDREN OF
THE ATOM, when I wrote that mini-series, I really connected
with those characters in that specific incarnation, depicting
them as teenagers in a way we'd never really seen before. If COTA had any creative pitfalls, they stemmed from the over-arching
superhero plot I grafted onto a story that was much more interesting
just dealing with the characters' emotions. So, THE INTIMATES is an
attempt to depict teen superheroes without the obvious -good vs. evil-
scenarios that superhero comicbooks always seem to engage in. I wanted
to write a series that dealt primarily with emotions, the intimate
lives of these characters. Being a teenager is probably the most dramatic,
heightened experience of a person's life. No drama is too small, you
feel things on an epic scale, every emotion is at its most heightened,
and just your day-to-day existence can be an obstacle course of sociological
landmines and amusement park-styled self-actualization. Makes for
a great book, I think.
CD: Which one of the titles or characters you've written in the past was the biggest thrill for you? And which one was the biggest burden?
JC: Besides the work I've created out of whole cloth, EARTH'S
MIGHTIEST HEROES has been the biggest thrill, because of my
intense love of the characters. I think UNCANNY X-MEN was
the toughest slog. It was so high profile and I was constantly
struggling to find my voice on it. The fans suffered most, having to put up with me jerking around trying
to get my footing. I think I finally did, late in my run, but the
damage was done and I had to get the hell out of there.
CD: What are your plans for the future? Any new projects we should know about?
JC: Just to keep on trucking and keep moving forward. I think I'm entering a new phase of my career so it's extremely exciting to see where things are going. It's nothing I can predict and I just hope the people who read my work have as much fun with this stuff as I am.
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